Brussels terror attack trials halted over questions on expert’s impartiality

Brussels terror attack trials halted over questions on expert’s impartiality
Credit: Belga/Eric Lalmand

The 2016 terror attacks trial was adjourned at the Brussels Assize Court after a suspect's lawyer investigated potential issues of impartiality behind the testimony of psychiatric expert Samuel Leistedt.

Nicolas Cohen, the lawyer for the terror suspect Bilal El Makhoukhi asked the court to be able to consult a medical report created by Leistedt on behalf of prison authorities. Cohen said that the defence must be able to review the quality of the work drawn up by the psychiatrist, notably to verify for any biased testimony.

The issue was first raised by El Makhouki’s defence counsel on Tuesday. In 2022, Leistedt was ordered to update a psychiatric report on the four terror suspects on behalf of the court. The psychiatrist was also asked to create a separate report on the suspects whilst detained at Haren Prison in Brussels, but this time on behalf of the FPS Justice.

Conflict of interest?

The defence claims that these two reports pose a conflict of interest as they may provide different accounts. Cohen asked the court to be able to review the report drawn up by the psychiatrist on behalf of the Federal Government.

"We are asking to see the contents of the report to assess whether there are any inconsistencies in his work," the lawyer stressed. The defence team wants to examine whether there is indeed a lack of impartiality as a result of the second report. The lawyers only discovered the existence of the separate report the day prior, during Leistedt's testimony at the court.

The head of the legal proceedings initially stated that an investigation of this separate report would not be necessary, as any potential inconsistencies between the two reports did not forcibly indicate that the account seen by the court was of poor quality.

According to the lawyer of Salah Abdeslam, who was absent from court on Wednesday due to illness, the psychiatrist should have asked the head of the court if working alongside the prison administration was compatible with his role as an expert during the trials.

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Prosecutors are notably irritated. They claim that the defence’s request is merely a way of "stalling the procedure" to frustrate the prosecution. They consider the request to be "inadmissible."

At the end of the morning, the hearing was adjourned to allow the court to rule. The head of the court has promised to issue a judgement "as soon as possible." The four terror suspects on trial have previously refused to apologise to their victims.

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